Mysterious language of love

Prologues and epilogues tend to be at opposite ends of a play. But in Will Eno's "The Flu Season," now staged by Circle X Theatre Company at Inside the Ford, the two go mano a mano over just what tale they're telling. It's the theatrical equivalent of stuffy PC and low-key Mac in those Apple ads -- suited up Prologue (Michael McColl), all Serling-esque gravitas, versus dressed down Epilogue (the affecting Christopher Goodson), a Sunset Junction skeptic who worries the whole business smells of truthiness.

The matter at hand is a love story: In a psychiatric treatment center, Man (Tim Wright) and Woman (Jamey Hood) share some words, then a bed. They're ignored by the self-involved help (Christina Mastin and David Fruechting), who stumble toward happiness while leaving their troubled patients in the lurch.

With Todd Sible's striking, chilly set, "Flu" could be the minor-key version of "Almost, Maine" the reassuring midwinter roundelay playing at the Colony in Burbank. But Eno, whose Prufrockian monologue "Thom Pain" was a 2005 Pulitzer finalist, is vastly more compelled by the mysteries of time, feeling and conversational space. He has a wry and delicate ear for how figures of speech serve as shaky rope bridges across the chasm between souls. Beckett, Albee and Thornton Wilder echo through Eno's work, and if he occasionally overdoes the meta-theatrics, one always has the sense of a restless mind in pursuit of the revelatory.

Director Jonathan Westerberg's visually elegant but slightly overstated production doesn't always suit Eno's style. By hitting the oblique comedy too hard, Circle X risks upsetting the playwright's fragile balance between rueful laughs and awkward silence. Still, "Flu Season" works as a drama lab, where talent experiments with form. Kind of like the new MacBook Air: light, beautifully designed, but not quite enough hard drive.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

"The Flu Season," [Inside] the Ford at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 29. $20. Contact: (323) 461-3673. Running time: 2 hours.

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A future both bleak and funny

A recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara, David Largman Murray was keenly aware of his school's ranking among the top 10 "party schools" in the country. Indeed, it was his school's hedonistic reputation that largely inspired Murray's dystopian sci-fi comedy "Robots vs. Fake Robots," now at the Powerhouse Theatre.

An odd blend of "Amazing Stories" pulp and ersatz profundity, "Robots" succeeds best as a surreal farce that toys with contemporary notions of fleshly pleasure and airbrushed physical ideals. It's when Murray overplays his all-too-obvious themes that his play verges on the sophomoric. Nevertheless, his sweepingly ambitious piece fascinates on many levels.

The action is set in the year 6000, when humans scrounge for subsistence on a poisoned planet, while deep underneath the Earth's surface a race of beautiful robots engages in ongoing orgies amid opulence and plenty.

In Emily Weisberg's meticulously paced and amusing staging, the hilariously hedonistic robots, gorgeous hard bodies all, prance and preen like motorized models on a catwalk. Conflict ensues when Joe (Steven Connell), dissatisfied with his drab human life, infiltrates the robot realm, where "smelly" and physically imperfect humans are killed on sight.

With the help of uber-robot Knee Pad (poignant Greg Crooks, in the stand-out performance of the show), Joe is divested of his tell-tale human odor and passes as a real robot. Meanwhile, his human lover, Sammie (Ida Darvish), embarks on an Orestian journey into the underworld to find Joe.

Clad in Leah Piehl's flashy costumes, the robots, choreographed by Jennifer Li, grind through highly stylized paces on Levi Brewster's striking utilitarian set. Flashing like a disco in hell, Rani de Leon's sound and Jacob Mitchell's lighting contribute to the appropriately Stygian atmosphere of this flawed, promising, infectiously youthful effort.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Robots vs. Fake Robots," Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 15. $20. (310) 396-3680 Ext. 3. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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